Ensuring Academic Integrity during COVID-19 pandemic

By Anosh Butt

This case study discusses assessment security in the digital realm and evaluates the practices from different universities safeguarding academic integrity and associated challenges (Gamage et al., 2020). The research presents evidence that due to the COVID-19 pandemic; educational institutions have temporarily closed to contain the spread of the virus, which has impacted over 60% of the global student population. The authors state that remote learning or online teaching has affected all levels, branches, and disciplines of education and substantially affected sectors that overly depend on teachers, such as primary education. Secondary and higher education sectors also face challenges, which include the completion of curricula and the preparation of benchmarking examinations for summative assessments in a limited time duration. In relation to benchmarking examinations, there is a looming uncertainty regarding conducting them online as they require stringent invigilation. To further emphasize the extent of these issues, the authors present a list of cancelled examinations, which include Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), West African Senior School Certification Examination (WASSCE), International English Language Testing System (IELTS).


This study sets out to investigate academic integrity during the COVID-19 pandemic, first presents an overview of academic integrity, practices of academic integrity in pre-COVID scenarios, and introduces the concept of assessment security. While contributing to this growing area of research, academic integrity is consensually defined as the commitment to six fundamental values (honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage) even facing adversities (Gamage et al., 2020). This section of this study is unique as it highlights various legislation systems relating to academic integrity in different countries, such as the United States, Australia, the Netherlands. Academic integrity practices are quite diverse in many countries in the pre-COVID-19 context.

The study mentioned examples from Australia, the United States, Canada, China, Sri Lanka, and indicated that the UK’s Higher Education Review process is implemented by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) responsible for: (1) assuring quality and standards of higher education; (2) monitoring and advising on standards and quality in UK’s higher education sector, and; (3) to ensure students are working towards a UK qualification and getting the higher education experience they are entitled to expect.

The research examines the altering landscape of higher education by reviewing assessment security in the digital domain in the COVID-19 context through books, websites of selected universities, newspapers, and national and institutional policy documents on academic integrity (Gamage et al., 2020). The study reiterates the significance of QAA as it provides guidelines and guiding principles through its Quality Code for Higher Education mandatory for all higher education providers to follow. Regarding innovative assessment practices, the University of Glasgow is presented as an example as it utilized social media for assessing students’ skills. The University of Greenwich had various creative assessment practices to substitute traditional essays including (1) designing assessments in which students use technology; (2) virtual labs in collaboration with departmental staff to bridge the gap between academic and professional practice; (3) students assessed through video presentations and; (4) employing projects via podcasts followed by audio-visual feedback (Gamage et al., 2020). Other assessment arrangements under COVID-19 comprise take-home exams, time-constrained assessments (TCAs), and pass/fail option instead of conventional examinations.

Measurable impact

The research presents evidence regarding numerous challenges to safeguard assessment security as assessment restrictions are harder to enforce remotely; lack of student support due to remote delivery; technological issues due to online delivery; and contract cheating. Gamage et al. (2020) also declare challenges of academic integrity in the current scenario due to financial and social pressure on academics and universities and the discipline-specific nature of academic integrity.

The authors report that it is unreasonable to expect a universal framework for the implementation of academic integrity policy as primary and secondary education has its country-specific approaches and examinations unless students sit for international qualifications such as CIEs, IELTS, SATs. Educational institutions across the world need to maintain standards and benchmarks for their prestige and ranking (Gamage et al., 2020).

In the current situation, students are the stakeholders and the most affected by academic integrity policy and management, which places major responsibilities on them. Traditionally, the main responsibility for maintaining academic integrity lies with students; however, a joint responsibility of all stakeholders of the academic community is needed (Saddiqui, 2016) to ensure acts of academic misconduct are not unnoticed (Gamage et al., 2020). The research findings discuss how diverse examination versions and invigilation have facilitated low-tech behavior control processes for academic integrity management, and modern technology has facilitated high-tech tools to detect academic misconduct, such as using plagiarism detection software (Stephens, 2016). Existing technologies and resources are still inadequate for conducting high-stake assessments such as viva, thesis submissions, and benchmark examinations (Gamage et al., 2020).

Gamage et al. (2020) acknowledge that academic integrity cannot be compromised, hence the most reasonable way of mitigating academic misconduct would require the readjustment to set attainable benchmarks aligned with student learning outcomes to change in these challenging times. Methods and practices that are considered usual will also change as altering technologies come to challenge accepted practices.


Q: What specific measures are universities taking to combat contract cheating and plagiarism in online assessments?

A: Universities are adopting a variety of strategies to tackle contract cheating and plagiarism in online assessments. One common approach is the integration of advanced plagiarism detection software that can scrutinise submissions for any similarity to existing works, indicating potential plagiarism. Additionally, educators are designing assessments that encourage original student voice and thought, making it harder for students to submit work that is not their own. This includes assignments that are personalised or require reflections on personal experiences, which are difficult to outsource. Moreover, universities are increasingly using secure browser technology during exams, which limits the ability to open new tabs or use unauthorised resources. Through these measures, institutions aim to uphold the principles of academic integrity by promoting honesty and fairness in the assessment process.

Q: How are universities addressing the technological and access inequalities among students for remote learning and assessments?

A: Universities are keenly aware of the technological and access inequalities among students and are taking steps to ensure that remote learning and assessments are accessible to all. Many institutions are providing students with laptops, tablets, or internet access subsidies to ensure they have the necessary technology to participate in online courses and assessments. Universities are also offering flexible assessment options to accommodate students who may face difficulties in accessing online platforms, such as allowing for extended submission deadlines or alternative forms of assessment. In addition, there's a growing emphasis on the student voice, with institutions seeking feedback from students about their access needs and adjusting policies accordingly to ensure equitable access to education.

Q: What are the long-term implications of the shift to online assessments on academic integrity policies and practices?

A: The shift to online assessments due to the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have long-term implications on academic integrity policies and practices. As universities adapt to more digital forms of assessment, there's a recognition that traditional approaches to academic integrity may need to be re-evaluated to address the unique challenges of online learning. This might include the development of new policies that specifically address the nuances of online assessments, such as contract cheating and the use of unauthorised online resources. Moreover, the emphasis on student voice in developing and refining these policies is likely to increase, ensuring that measures to uphold academic integrity are fair, understood, and supported by the student body. In the long run, the experiences gained during this period could lead to more robust and flexible academic integrity practices that are better suited to the evolving landscape of higher education.


[Source Paper] Gamage, K. A., Silva, E. K. D., & Gunawardhana, N. (2020). Online delivery and assessment during COVID-19: Safeguarding academic integrity. Education Sciences, 10(11), 301.
DOI: 10.3390/educsci10110301

[1] Saddiqui, S. (2016). Engaging students and faculty: Examining and overcoming the barriers. Handbook of academic integrity, 1009-1036.
DOI: 10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_18-1

[2] Stephens, J. M. (2016). Creating cultures of integrity: A multi-level intervention model for promoting academic honesty. Handbook of academic integrity, 996-1003.
DOI: 10.1007/978-981-287-098-8_13

Related Entries